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Are you collaborating with your customers?

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Are you collaborating with your customers?

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Collaboration is a pretty popular concept at the moment, with countless articles, books and guides on both its value for companies and suggesting ways that it can be improved.  Indeed, this blog has been publishing quite a few posts of that nature as well.  Most of these posts have however been on how employees can collaborate better internally, albeit with a number touching on open innovation and collaborating with external stakeholders, such as suppliers and even competitors.

One group that hasn’t been touched on however are customers.  How can companies collaborate better with their customers?  I’ve written a bit in the past week or so about the need for companies to become sense and respond organisations that are listening persistently to their customers and attempting to provide customised solutions to them.

Now you may say that all companies want to better understand their customers, and indeed, even the most firmly entrenched make and sell type organisations spend millions on market research.  The crux of the matter is how likely it is for that feedback to yield results.  If customers perceive no value in giving their feedback to a company, then it will pretty rapidly shrivel up.

Providing an ongoing information for value exchange however sits at the very heart of a strong customer-supplier relationship.  When companies start deriving value from the customer inputs, you can bet your life that they’ll want to continue doing so, whilst customers likewise will be more likely to offer their feedback if that is acted upon to provide them with what they desire.

Suffice to say, there have been a number of examples of excellent customer collaboration, especially in the area of cocreation.  Lego for instance are well known for their work with a group of core customers in cocreating new products, whilst a number of b2b companies are working much more closely with their core customers.

There are of course a number of benefits to better collaboration with your customers, including:

  1. Increasing your innovation capacity by soliciting ideas and input from external sources
  2. Speeding up innovation, courtesy of rapid input into all aspects of the product development process
  3. Time to market is often reduced due to the greater level of input

Suffice to say, it’s easy to imagine co-creation at play in new product development, but it can also be applied just as well to service environments, brand development and even marketing initiatives.

You could of course argue that this is just crowdsourcing, but whereas projects such as Dell Idea Storm were an open call for assistance and ideas, co-creation is by its very nature extremely targeted and focused on a particular problem.

If you want to get started with co-creation, the following steps might give you some guidance:

  1. Define clear objectives for the project
  2. Ascertain who the right customers to involve are
  3. Collaborate with customers to learn their core demands
  4. Design products or services with them to satisfy those demands
  5. Determine how to share the value gained
  6. Overcome any internal resistance to change

Are you collaborating with your customers?

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